Out and about: E&T’s pick of #technology #events in May

May 3, 2016

Activities for all ages taking place during May. As always, check in advance with the organiser’s website for current details about start time, and whether there’s any charge or need to register.

 Above and Beyond

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 27 May –29 August

Experience what space flight is really like and glimpse into its future in the National Maritime Museum’s new family-friendly, interactive exhibition, sponsored by Boeing, which opens for the Summer this month. Design and race your own supersonic jet, take an elevator ride to the edge of space and enjoy the view of Earth from above, or go on a marathon to Mars and see how your body would cope on the long-haul trip to the red planet. Recommended for ages 7+, ‘Above and Beyond’ is packed with immersive simulations, participative design challenges and visionary concepts that will help visitors get up-close and personal with the technology that makes air and space travel possible.

 IAC Open Days

Queensway Meadows, Newport, Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 May

Users and suppliers of industrial control equipment will converge on Industrial Automation and Control’s Newport works for an exhibition featuring more than 30 displays of equipment including variable-speed drives, motors, sensors, programmable controllers, communications, motion control and machine safety. Among the big hitters due to be attending and exhibiting are Siemens, ABB, Sick (UK), Wittenstein, Mersen, IFM Electronic, Pilz, Underwoods, ABB Low Voltage, DP Fabrications, Eldon, Parmley Graham and Cembre. The two day event showcases a company recognised as one of the UK’s leading systems integrators. Entry is free with catering provided, although pre-registration is essential.

Digital 2016

Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales, 6-7 June

Digital 2016 brings together more than 2000 delegates from a wide range of industry sectors, all within the digital sphere; to be enlightened, to network, to be inspired, and to do business. Explore the world of new technology, hear from inspirational industry leaders, interact with the latest tech and network with a mass of like-minded business leaders. Whilst tech is the constant thread, there’s a focus on how it’s is revolutionising the way we live and do business by addressing themes such as tech, skills, security and funding. Day 1 is for those curious about how technology is shaping our future and revolutionising the way we live and do business, while Day 2 will help you understand how you can drive growth in your business by engaging digital skills To help get your business equipped with digital skills there’s an IT bootcamp and coding workshops

The Lean Startup Summit London

Level39, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, 16-18 May

The Lean Startup philosophy was first proposed by entrepreneur/author Eric Ries in the book ‘The Lean Startup’ and has since been applied to any individual, team, or company looking to introduce new products or services into the market. Today, the methodology is a common practice used all over the world and The Lean Startup Summit London brings together entrepreneurs and corporate innovators who seek ways of working that support continuous innovation and sustainable growth. Themes and keynote speakers are based on host Level39’s verticals –  Fintech, Cyber Security, Smart Cities and Retail Solutions – and the organisers are taking the 50/50 pledge to showcase an equal share of men’s and women’s voices.

{Open}:Hack @ tmformlive!

Nice, France, 6-7 May

A unique opportunity to bring your product or create new prototype apps working with an open ecosystem platform focused on building smart, sustainable cities. As well as experimenting with the open platform, open APIs, open data and creative new solutions exposed by others, attendees will have the chance to compete for prizes offered to the solutions that have the greatest impact to climate and smart city challenges affecting real citizens. Winners will get the opportunity to demo their application to a number of city directors and senior executives from around the globe at our flagship TM Forum Live event.

Mail Rail – the Post Office Underground Railway

Bromley Central Library, 3 May

What do you know about the Post Office former underground railway system in London and the plans for its future ? This talk, jointly organised by the IET’s London and South East: Kent local networks, will describe the line that ran between Whitechapel and Paddington from 1927 until 2003 and plans to possibly reopen it for public viewing.

Robots Helping People

IET, Savoy Place, 11 May

What do robots need to be able to effectively help people? How can we equip robots with the skills to understand human states, predict human intentions and assist in an intelligent and supportive manner? Using examples from his research at Imperial College’s Personal Robotics Laboratory, Professor Yiannis Demiris will describe how assistance personalisation is a key competence that future helper robots will need to possess in a lecture organised by the IET’s  London local network. Expect an interdisciplinary exploration of the field of personal robotics, drawing inspirations from intelligent sensing, machine learning, human factors, and robot design to give a glimpse of how robots can help people’s wellbeing.

 Science as Revolution: RTS/IET public lecture with Sir Paul Nurse

British Museum, London, 11 May

Science has brought about revolutionary changes in our understanding of ourselves and the natural world that have acted as major drivers of our culture and civilisation. This knowledge has in turn brought about revolutions in the ways that we live and in the technologies that support society. A case can be made that science is the most revolutionary activity of humankind. This year’s RTS/IET Public Lecture, to be delivered by Sir Paul Nurse, examines the ways in which science is changing the world and how the world needs to respond to these changes. Sir Paul will explain how scientific knowledge has brought about revolutions in the ways that we live and in the technologies that support society.

IET Tribology Tour: Bringing Tribology to Life

Coventry University, 12 May

In association with IET Local Networks, the IET Tribology Network is hosting a series of evening talks that bring tribology to life through real examples and case studies. The study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear – collectively known as tribology – is fundamental to energy production, manufacturing, healthcare and many other industries. Tribology underpins and sustains our economic competitiveness, environment and quality of life. Come along and find out how it opens up exciting and powerful paths to new technological solutions, improves the sustainability of products and systems, benefits the environment, and increases economic competitiveness

Building Efficiency

London, 13 May

Today’s UK portfolio of non-domestic buildings is where the future of UK prosperity is determined. So in order to meet the needs of the occupants, achieve carbon and energy reduction targets, and comply with legislation whilst keeping within the budgets imposed on them, building service engineers, FMs and energy managers have a mammoth task to keep a building functioning to all criteria imposed on them. This BSRIA event will look at the benefits of a business focused attitude towards maintenance strategy decision making, how benchmarking projects can be used in order to demonstrate evidence of improvements and how it can drive efficiency. Attendees will also find out how building performance evaluation can identify areas of good performance and also where there is a need for improvement.

 

Booker Park Community School, Aylesbury, 12 May,

Find out more about Schoolhaus, claimed to be the UK’s most energy-efficient school buildings, designed and developed by UK Energy Partners design and develop to be built and delivered by its construction division, Net Zero Buildings. The award-winning designs run at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions, generating energy and revenue through integrated solar PV roofs. Activities on the day include a building tour, presentations from expert speakers and case studies.

 

Big Ben falls silent – Great Clock undergoing repairs – an annotated infographic

April 29, 2016

The famous chimes of Big Ben are to fall silent after 157 years of nearly unbroken service.

The Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster in London needs urgent repairs as part of a £30m project to prevent its mechanism from failing. The tower will be partially covered in scaffolding for three years from 2017, although engineers plan to keep at least one of the four clock faces always visible.

The bells will fall silent for several months, chiming only for important events, a House of Commons statement said.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

I say, ding dong

I say, ding dong

E&T news weekly #92 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 29, 2016

Friday 29 April 2016

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Driverless vehicles worry Brits as UK automotive sector soars

This poll showing that most Briton’s are concerned about driverless vehicles shows why you should never let the public make decisions about subjects they don’t fully understand (*cough* EU referendum *cough*). According to the poll of 1000 British motorists, 65 per cent are unsure about the new technology, probably for no reason other than being scared of new, unfamiliar things, like foreign countries and their inhabitants for example. Driverless vehicles are shown to be safer than human drivers for a number of reasons. Other than the obvious advantages of having a powerful computer constantly analysing the environment around the car for dangers and obstacles, driverless cars don’t get tired after a long day at work, they don’t lose concentration worrying about the mundanities of their daily life, and they never accidentally get too hammered at the computer pub and drive back overconfident while making miscalculations about their distance from other vehicles. Humans are the real danger on British roads. Contrary to the recent poll, I think that a computer should always be behind the wheel; in fact steering wheels should be removed from vehicles altogether in order to eliminate the risk factors associated with the many, many shortcomings of human drivers.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Electric cars at heart of Volkswagen transformation

Really, what else could VW do than publicly embrace a new automotive technology? When you’ve foolishly shot your own diesel business in the foot, you’d be well advised to limp in another direction. Handily, the electric vehicle market is undeniably the future and is poised to blossom in terms of sales, especially if any of the proposed EU government incentives encouraging consumers to buy electric cars finally pay off. I, for one, am certainly interested in buying a VW Budd-E Microbus, if that ever comes to market, and if my government is prepared to bung me a few thousand quid as an incentive to do so, sign me up and plug me in.

Whiplash injuries tackled with active seat system

I enjoyed this story for its illuminating description of how and why whiplash injuries occur. Now I know this, they make perfect sense. When your body is heading in one direction while your neck goes off in another, that’s clearly a recipe for debilitating pain. Which, in turn, makes this Loughborough University research model for a safer car seat – one that works with the forces influencing your head and torso – also perfectly sensible. The short video accompanying this story clearly explains the thinking behind it.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Computers in German nuclear plant infected with virus

Perhaps this story isn’t surprising, but it’s a warning all the same. Computer viruses spread just as insidiously as their biological counterparts, and good hygiene is essential. I’m willing to bet that none of the staff plugging USB sticks into their office computers believed they were infected – the symptoms only showed up later. Fortunately the plant operator, RWE, kept its administrative IT network separate from the power plant control system, but you can’t be too careful.

Robot monk spreading Buddhist teachings in China

I’ll be honest. I’ve picked this story because I like the picture. I doubt if the cute ‘robot monk’ will convert any convinced non-believers to religion, but visitors to the temple near Beijing can ask basic questions about Buddhist belief and practice without any fear of embarrassment, and anything that helps spread knowledge and understanding must be a good thing.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
South African rhinos protected by high-tech network

I love rhinos. They’re wonderful things. They look like armour-clad warriors with the thickest plated skin. And they have majestic, lethal horns. I would give them a good old cuddle if I didn’t think I’d get gored to death or stamped on until my brain oozed out of my skull. The calves are adorable too. Little bundles of 65kg cuteness. Drones, thermal cameras and motion sensors are being installed in a South Africa natural park to try and protect them from poachers. I hate poachers. I’d love it if they got gored to death or stamped on until their brains oozed out of their skulls. The supposed healing properties of rhino horn – which is essentially compacted hair – makes them targets, and they’re brutally slaughtered for it – 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014 in SA. Absolutely ridiculous. That’s even when they’re monitored and looked after by rangers. Rhino deaths could take over their births by 2018 and they could be completely wiped out by 2025. Such an ancient, stupid myth and the utter ignorance and foolishness of some people is to blame for the demise of these great herbivores. Hopefully, the system will help reduce the death toll and rhinos can plod along on their merry way without having to worry about being attacked by soulless humans. Unicorns are real. They’re just big, grey and grumpy.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Driverless vehicles worry Brits as UK automotive sector soars

Apparently, 65 per cent of British motorists believe a human should always be in control of a vehicle despite the development of driverless cars, according to a new poll. As the industry faces a huge boom in driverless technology appearing more frequently, it looks like driverless cars are really on the horizon, and it’s making people a tad nervous. Can you blame us, seeing as there are so may grey areas still to be sorted out legally? If you have an accident with a driverless vehicle, who’s at fault? I’m assuming many of them would be fitted with cameras, but how will insurance companies keep up with the new legal pitfalls that are likely to arise from this? The study also found that people liked the fact that driverless cars would not be allowed to tailgate. Yay! But how many people will tailgate driverless vehicles just to see what would happen?

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Egg-based memristor paves way for dissolvable body sensors

Durability is important for electronics, but sometimes we need components that don’t have to last very long. A team of scientists from China and the UK created a chip, or rather a memristor (memory resistor), that simply dissolves after its work is done. And they made it with the help of eggs – or specifically, diluted egg albumen, the clear part of an egg that turns white when it’s cooked. The researchers spun the albumen on a silicon wafer to produce a super-thin film. Then they put electrodes made from magnesium on one side of the film, and those made from tungsten on the other side – materials that are natural and dissolvable. The device is used to regulate the flow of electric current and can also remember charges, and the work paves the way for dissolvable sensors that in future could be used inside the human body.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
High-tech buoys prevent illnesses from filthy water

As one of the researchers from Michigan State University behind this new approach to helping holidaymakers keep clear of water-borne illnesses explains, taking samples from a beach then sending them off to a test lab is just too slow. By the time you find out that you shouldn’t have gone for that bracing swim yesterday you’ve probably already spent a very uncomfortable night. The MSU technique uses buoys fitted with sensors that work like labs floating offshore and testing water quality continuously in real time for contaminants like E coli bacteria. It’s not clear how anyone thinking of taking a dip would be alerted; I’m imagining a scenario a little like ‘Jaws’ where a foghorn sounds and there’s a mad stampede to clear the water. More likely, it’ll be like the Blue Flag system we’re familiar with in the UK but operating on a day-by-day basis. Whichever, it would save a lot of people from having their holidays spoiled by a bout of swimming-related gastric trouble.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Queen birthday message etched on corgi hair strand

Last Friday the whole of the UK joined hands in celebrating the 90th birthday of her Majesty the Queen, and what a day it was. The Queen must have received some fairly remarkable birthday presents – you don’t spend 63 years as the monarch of one of the most important nations on earth without making a few wealthy friends – but none seemed to receive as much media attention as this tiny little token. Yes, the University of Nottingham succeeded in giving the Queen the most bizarre birthday present in the history of the world, a single corgi hair inscribed with a personal birthday message. Would you call that thoughtful or just plain weird? Seriously, University of Nottingham, what were you thinking when you came up with this idea? I’ve received a few impractical birthday presents in my time, but a birthday message on a dog hair? That’s not only useless, but gross. I know you wanted to impress the queen but did you have to be so outrageously disgusting? Just look at that photo, it makes my skin crawl.

Robotic innovations on show at Hannover Messe 2016

This week I was lucky enough to attend the Hannover Messe trade fair and the robots on show blew my tiny little mind! This is just a little look at some of the robots that were displayed by industrial and automotive companies from around the world. Can you even begin to imagine anything cooler than a robotic rollercoaster? It was incredible! If you’re hungry for more head on over to E&T’s Twitter page and look out for #HM16 for more robotic innovations, including more than one gyrating hexapod!

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
South African rhinos protected by high-tech network

On average three rhinos are poached in South Africa every day. That means that if the current rate of poaching continues, the rate of rhino deaths will overtake the rate of rhino births in two years and there may be no rhinos in South Africa by 2025. That’s pretty upsetting, especially considering the fact that the only reason why these animals are being slaughtered is their horns and their presumed therapeutic or magic properties in traditional medicine in Asia. A new hope has arisen for rhinos in South Africa in the form of a new tech project that will enable monitoring the movements of people in an unnamed private reservation. The reserve will be turned into a highly protected security ward – no one will be able to get in or out without the rangers being immediately alerted. If it proves reliable, the system may be deployed in other natural parks as well.

Atmospheric water machine designed to solve water crisis

A machine that can make water from air even in very dry climates promises to solve the world’s water shortage. Certainly an interesting idea as the atmosphere is the only source of fresh water in many parts of the planet. The team said that we don’t need to worry about depleting the water from the air as everything gets naturally replenished from the ocean.

Transit of Mercury – tiny planet to cross the face of the Sun on 9 May – an annotated infographic

April 29, 2016

Something yonder this way comes – the planet Mercury. The tiniest and innermostiest planet in our solar system (the one closest to the Sun and the one probably exclaiming every day, “Coo, it’s a bit hot again today, eh?”) will pass between Earth and the Sun on 9 May 2016.

Eagle-eyed skywatchers can catch sight of our perspiring planetary friend by viewing it through a telescope. Mercury will appear as a tiny black dot moving across the face of the Sun.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Mercury revs up for its solar sojourn

Mercury revs up for its solar sojourn

E&T news weekly #91 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 22, 2016

Friday 22 April 2016

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Everlasting battery breakthrough with nanowire material
Chance discovery could lead to better, cheaper batteries
Electric car batteries could help power railways

It’s been a big week for battery news – again. Given the ever-increasing role of rechargeable devices in our lives – be they phones or cars – it should hardly come as a surprise that a phenomenal amount of focused research into new energy storage solutions is ongoing and being conducted in the laboratories of the world. As the fossil fuel resources of the Earth dwindle, just as energy demands surge upwards in tandem with the globe’s population growth spurt, the need to renew and recharge efficiently, cheaply and easily will become even more crucial than it is now. Good news, then, from the University of California, who announced this week that a novel material using manganese dioxide to protect golden nanowires in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel has resulted in batteries that maintain a consistent capacity for over 200,000 recharge cycles. Meanwhile, over at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, experimentation with a zinc-manganese oxide battery – as an alternative to the more commonplace lithium-ion technology found in modern devices – has resulted in a rechargeable battery with much greater energy density than conventional car batteries but at the same cost. Seems like manganese could hold the key. Once we’re all driving electric cars, powered by these new super-powerful, long-lasting, dirt-cheap manganese batteries, the railways might like to tap into some of that power. A project from the universities of Sheffield and Southampton is looking at new energy storage options that could enable trains to run more cheaply by borrowing some of the stored electricity from cars parked at the station, instead of buying electricity expensively from the grid. It could give new meaning to the phrase “parking charges apply”.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Drones deliver packages for Australian postal service

I’m pleased to hear that postal delivery drones are being tested in Australia. I’m not sure what the state of the country’s postal services is now, but when I lived there in the early 1990s it was nothing short of appalling. In Melbourne, my morning mail deliveries would routinely arrive between 4 and 5pm, if at all. There were none on weekends and, more often than not, none on Mondays and Fridays either. So effectively, the only two morning/evening deliveries I could count on were on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The reasons? Many tended to blame the then extremely aggressive postal workers’ trade unions which introduced a number of ridiculous requirements and bans restricting postmen’s activities (one of which, as far as I can remember, concerned the state of technical readiness of postmen’s bikes, and no Melbourne postman was allowed to carry out his duties on a bike that did not correspond to the specs). Those were the times when the left-wing government of Joan Kirner, Victoria’s premier, (nicknamed ‘Mother Russia’ for her political leanings), was in power. Members of the state’s electricians’ trade union were said to have put forward a demand whereby a qualified nurse would stand next to each electrician’s ladder in case he fell down while carrying out his duties. In another much publicised case, a team of builders stopped working and went on strike on spotting a mouse on their construction site. They demanded the site’s immediate fumigation and, allegedly, free beer. As a kind of compensation, I guess. I have reason to believe that postal (and other communal) services in Victoria have improved dramatically since then. And the drones are going to make them even better. One advantage drones have over their human counterparts is that they do not form trade unions. At least not yet.

3D printing used to design and print clothes

I cannot stop being amazed at the sheer speed of 3D printing technology’s growth. Only eight years ago, in 2008, E&T’s cover story was about the attempts at food-printing by an aspiring Chicago scientist-cum-chef which sounded like a real novelty then and now – printable clothes! Another recent E&T news story reported on printable UAVs. In short, it is now hard to find anything at all that is not printable already or promises to become printable in the near future. Even humans can (theoretically at least) be now ‘printed’ to genetic specifications (read cloned). There’s one thing, or rather creature, that I find hard to imagine in a printable form. I don’t know why, but I simply cannot fathom a printable horse. Cows and sheep, I can, but not horses. What’s wrong with them, or rather, what’s wrong with me?? I think I should probably make an appointment with a shrink, just in case.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Industrial networks in ‘mess’, says Kaspersky

In the issue of E&T published this week Dr Richard Piggin, and chair of the IET’s Cyber Security Community [communities.theiet.org] looks at whether industry is ready for the increasing focus on cyber-risk in industrial control systems that’s emerging in the wake of incidents like December’s attack on the Ukrainian power grid. Eugene Kaspersky, probably one of the best known names in this area, chimed in too with a warning that the situation could be far worse than it appears because companies often don’t go public when problems arise. There’s an element of “he would say that, wouldn’t he” – Kaspersky was speaking at the launch of his eponymous company’s new product, which happens to be designed to solve exactly the problem he was highlighting. What’s worrying though is his claim that not only are firms clueless about attacks on systems for remote operation and control of equipment, but that “even the police don’t have a clue”. The Ukrainian incident, which disrupted power supplies to a wide area of the country in December, could well be part of a regional dispute whose consequences might seem as remote to the UK public as a natural disaster on the other side of the world. Consider how similar incidents have targeted hospitals in the USA, Australia and Germany, and there’s good reason to be worried. As Kaspersky put it: “My answer to this is don’t pay ransom – have better cyber security in place.”

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Scunthorpe steelworkers accept pay cut; Port Talbot buyout considered

Tata Steel has been in the news repeatedly for a number of weeks now. Possible closures of a large plant at Port Talbot and the looming possibility of thousands of job losses mean that the company is in pretty hot water right now. With competitors in China producing steel at an exceptionally low price, British steel could decline even more rapidly than it is already. Because of the bad news, workers at Tata Steel have agreed to take a three per cent pay cut to attempt to make up some of the shortfall. This is of course a temporary measure, but it makes you wonder how far workers are willing to go to keep their jobs. Would you take a three per cent pay cut? If you got a three per cent pay raise for example, you may scoff and think it’s not that much. But imagine it being taken away from your pay packet ‘for the greater good’ – how would you feel about that?

Heathrow drone strike puts regulations in the spotlight

This is not only a dangerous story, but a thought-provoking one, too. This week, a British Airways Airbus A320 was struck by a drone. It’s yet to be discovered who was controlling the drone and why it was there, but it raises questions as to what to do with rogue drone pilots keen to get a good image of a plane or just messing around. Questions about drone pilots needing licences and new regulations are being suggested, but because a pilot of a drone can control it from so far away, it wouldn’t police the problem very well. I personally think sniping them from a distance could be quite fun, and may open more jobs in the UK!

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Solar nanogrids in Kenya help power off-grid population

Solar power projects in rural Africa are nothing new. What makes this one interesting is that it uses DC technology for simplicity and ease of maintenance, avoiding the need for inverters. Local people will be trained to manage and repair the system, and the cost to households will be less than they spend now on kerosene. Small businesses will also be able to get DC-powered grinding mills instead of diesel mills that cause health problems when used indoors.

Electric car batteries could help power railways

This is one of those research projects that might not lead to real-life implementation, but it’s likely to yield useful information anyway. Teams from the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Southampton will investigate whether electric vehicles in station car parks could act as a kind of collective energy storage system to help trains accelerate and absorb their braking energy. That’s a technical challenge in itself, but another element of the project will consider what incentives commuters might need to persuade them to take part. Would free lineside parking be enough of a benefit to offset the shortened life of an expensive (and I mean really expensive) EV battery? Maybe a free season ticket on the trains would be more of an inducement.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Engineering would feel the pinch of Brexit, says IET

Would the UK be better off outside the EU or within? The engineering, research, scientific and manufacturing community seems to be quite unambiguous. No matter what flaws the European project might have, its advantages far exceed the drawbacks. The IET has joined the debate outlining why Brexit is not the best way forward for UK engineering.

Heathrow drone strike puts regulations in the spotlight

It was fortunately not a disaster but it was certainly waiting to happen. A drone operated by an unknown hobbyist who will likely never been found has hit an aircraft approaching London’s Heathrow airport. Nothing has happened. The aircraft landed safely and was cleared for its subsequent scheduled flight after examination by engineers. But what if the drone got sucked into the aircraft’s engine? We all remember the ‘miracle on the Hudson’, don’t we? We know what large birds can do inside jet engines and although there hasn’t been that much research done into what drones can do, one might expect the effects to be rather similar. The problem is that no one requires drone operators to educate themselves on these matters and virtually anyone can purchase a quadcopter from a shop or Amazon for a fairly cheap price.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Drones deliver packages for Australian postal service

The news is a little dry this week – there are barely any robots at all! I rummaged around and managed to find out that Australia Post are carrying out field trials using drones, demonstrating that the helpful little guys can be used to deliver small packages. I’m slightly jealous that no one in the UK has seriously taken up drones as a potential delivery system. I can’t even comprehend how awesome it would be to have a little flying postman deliver my Amazon packages. No doubt my bank account would suffer as a result of almost constant impulse buys, but my standard of living would be significantly improved. Think about it, you’re slightly upset because you had to spend some of your hard earned wages on something horribly boring – like a radiator key, or a new USB cable – and then a drone turns up with the delivery! What could be better? I may seem slightly more impressed-by-drones than the average bear, but it just seems like there’s no end to their usefulness. They can deliver packages, wield chainsaws, breathe fire to roast whole turkeys and spy on unsuspecting garden dwellers. Ok, so a drone was responsible for the death of an innocent horse once, but you should really blame the owner, not the breed. We actually recently got a drone – and I love it! I’d never actually seen one in the flesh before and I was absolutely delighted when the little guy flew into my life, and heart. He’s not the most sophisticated drone in the world – he’s pretty lightweight and got blown into a large tree by a fairly average strength gust of wind the other day – but a drone is a drone, and I think he’s awesome.

Industrial networks in ‘mess’, says Kaspersky

You think industrial networks are in a mess huh, Kaspersky? Is that what you think? Well let me tell you something, Kaspersky, the only ‘mess’ is around here is your beloved Kaspersky Security Endpoint for Windows. Every time I try and research anything that sucker pops up and declares ‘adult content’ this, ‘adult content’ that. I will have you know that it is within the realms of my job to research the world’s first bionic penis, and I’ve tried, goodness knows I’ve tried! But you, Kaspersky, never fail to stand in my way!

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Engineering would feel the pinch of Brexit, says IET

Following in the footsteps of other engineering institutions, the IET has set out its official position on the European Union referendum to be held in the UK in June. It comes as E&T magazine kicks off its EU referendum coverage with a feature looking at what the industry thinks are the key issues for engineering and technology [http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2016/04/brexit.cfm]: research, immigration, market access and standards. Do you agree with IET President Naomi Climer? The E&T mail bag is already filling up with reader opinions on the issue – let us know what you think at engtechletters@theiet.org.

Intel to cut 12,000 jobs worldwide due to falling PC sales

The troubles at Intel are the inevitable eventual fallout from several consecutive years of falling PC sales, as consumers upgrade their mobile phones and perhaps tablets but hang on to their old computers. Intel says it’s moving into the Internet of Things but the fact they are making so many redundancies reflects where the industry is in the cycle right now – it’s still very early days.

New Safe Containment steel dome to seal off radiation @Chernobyl – an annotated infographic

April 21, 2016
The Chernobyl reactor – scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, 30 years ago – is now being entombed in a giant steel shelter.
The $2.2 billion New Safe Confinement project is due for completion in 2017, replacing the crumbling concrete sarcophagus erected after the accident.
E&T news covered this Chernobyl containment story in full yesterday.
Click on the graphic for an expanded view.
Chernobyl containment

Chernobyl containment

One in the eye for Islamic State as Syria’s Palmyra Arch is recreated using 3D technology – an annotated infographic

April 20, 2016

A replica of the 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, pointlessly destroyed in 2015 by Islamic State fighters in Syria, has been erected in London’s Trafalgar Square. The scale model was constructed from Egyptian marble using 3D technology.

It may not be the original antiquity, but at least its artistic and cultural heritage has not been lost forever, now that its essential form has been captured and preserved for the ages.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Palmyra Arch 3D

Palmyra Arch 3D

New issue of E&T magazine now online – the #Brexit issue – who’s in, who’s out, what do those @TheIET think?

April 20, 2016

For our readers who don’t live in the UK, or for those who have managed to miss it by living as hermits on a remote island with no power and a sign reading ‘no junk mail – beware of the lion’ on the door, there will be a UK referendum on its membership of the European Union in a couple of months’ time.

“It’s a big decision,” starts the government leaflet sent out last week, “one that will affect you, your family and your children for decades to come.” It’s complex too; there are so many factors for everyone to consider.

It should also matter to you as engineers because it will affect engineering. Many science and engineering organisations have been putting forward their views and the IET will join them by publishing a public statement. “We are calling for urgent discussion on the impact of an exit decision on a sector that is so vital to our country’s economy,” says IET President Naomi Climer.

We kick off the debate in this issue.

Read all about the issues surrounding Brexit for engineering and technology professionals: http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2016/04/index.cfm

Brexit: weigh up the way out

Brexit: weigh up the way in – or out

E&T news weekly #90 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 15, 2016

Friday 15 April 2016

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Netherlands home to world’s most sustainable office building

It doesn’t surprise me that the Netherlands is home to the world’s most sustainable building. I’ve always admired this small and densely populated European country, almost all of which is below sea level, for the care it takes of its natural environment. Dutch windmill-and-wind-turbine-dotted countryside is a trademark in its own right and is immediately recognisable by its cleanliness and neatness. The same can be said about Holland’s towns and cities. I have just returned from an assignment in Amsterdam (which IS, incidentally the nation’s official capital – not The Hague as many are inclined to think) with more fresh proof of the above. My hotel and the conference that I attended were both in one of the modern Amsterdam suburbs which have sprung to life in the last 5-10 years and are still pretty much under construction. Walking to the conference of a morning, I was able to see how new cycle lanes are being laid next to the still half-finished office blocks. And the already existing lanes were swarming with cyclists careening to work. A lonely pedestrian (i.e.moi) had to exercise great caution when crossing them: cyclists in the Netherlands have the right of way not just over pedestrians, but also over all other means of transport, including the famous Amsterdam trams. No wonder, if we remember that, according to official statistics, nearly 27 per cent of all trips for distances up to 5 miles in the Netherlands are taken on bikes. On average, there are 1.1 bicycles per every single resident of the Netherlands (I wonder what each of them does with that extra one-tenth?) including pre-cycling age babies and the post-cyclingocto- andnonogenarians, albeit in Holland the latter are likely to still be dashing around on bicycles for all they are worth. This proliferation of cyclists inevitably leads to less traffic, less pollution and – generally – a healthier population. It has to be said here that the country’s all-permeatingcyclomania (forgive my neologism) was not always morally healthy. When living in Amsterdam for a short while in the late 1990s, I learned about a dedicated stolen bicycle website on which the very well organised local thieves could advertise their latest two-wheeled loot for a quick sale. An adventurous and hard-up customer could then fix a meeting and acquire a freshly stolen bike for ten euros or so. In case of a sudden police raid, the sellers would promptly dump the stolen bikes into a nearby canal (and there’s no shortage of those in central Amsterdam), from where a specially assigned police dredger would ferret them all out once a month – solely out of clean environment considerations, no doubt. I’m not sure if the bike thieves’ website is still in existence, but I can vouch for the fact that in my hotel corridor one of the doors was marked as ‘Europe’s most sustainable hotel room’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mine.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Robotic falcon ‘hired’ to protect German airport

Sometimes it’s difficult to pick out one favourite news story, but not when there’s a robotic falcon on the scene!Robird – cute name huh? – was developed by a team from the University ofTwente in the Netherlands, and has the cunning ability to scare away birds, just like a real falcon! This robotic feathery friend has just landed his first real job at a small German airport where he’ll be responsible for keeping the area clear of pesky organic birds, which are a massive nuisance to airport control. You know how much damage these selfish creatures cause to airports every year? I don’t, but I’m sure it’s a lot, and don’t even get me started on the safety issues the spiteful little blighters cause every time they’re inconveniently sucked into a plane’s engines. Now all this could be a thing of the past, thanks to theRobird. By mimicking the flight of a real peregrine falcon,Robird scares away the nuisance birds, which react to the robot security guard as they would to the real predator: by flying away to a safer area, away from the planes, out of the airport and out of my sight.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Loch Ness Monster hunt renewed by marine robot

‘Nessie the Loch Ness Monster
Wad seem to be gey blate,
And doesna like the scientist chiels
That come, and sit, and wait.’ JKAnnand’s first quatrain from the aptly-named poem ‘Nessie’ says that the mystical, dinosaur-like creature is very shy and doesn’t like the scientist fellows that come to see if they can spot her. Too right, my old girl. I wouldn’t want my ancient privacy spoiled either. Now ‘scientistchiels’ have taken it one step further by plopping a robot in LochNess to spy onNessie and ruin the fun. The marine robot is calledMunin and it’ll be sticking its theoretical nose into the mythical beast’s business, as it explores the deepest parts of the loch to try and find her. Apart from being a nosyparker, the sonar-equippedMunin, developed by companyKongsberg Maritime, will be gathering data about LochNess’ topography. It’ll dive as deep as 230m. Perhaps deep enough to findNessie, but probably not. Additionally, scientists say the waterproof bot will be able to discover whether the ‘monster’ existed at all.Nessie is a secretive dinosaur and an ancientPlesiosaur. Obviously she doesn’t want to be found. Stupid scientistchiels.

Micro spaceships powered by lasers to search for alien life

Pew! Pew! Pew! That’s the sound of tiny laser beams getting shot out of tiny spaceships! Actually, I’m not sure how the lasers will sound. However, nanocraft will be sent to space with laser beams to find extraterrestrial life in AlphaCentauri. They’ll carry cameras, thrusters, a power supply and navigation communication equipment. Each spaceship is no bigger than a mobile phone chip. I WANT ONE.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Explosives detection laser ‘CCTV’ could stop terrorists

This could unleash a whole new wave of technology – and influence how we build new tech too. A device has been developed by British researchers that has the ability to remotely scan and detect even the smallest amounts of explosives whether it be in passing vehicles or people’s possessions. It’s upsetting that a need for this technology has become so vital in our everyday lives and it’s made me think when it’ll become compulsory elsewhere too. Will it eventually be included inwearables such as watches and fitness trackers, so people on the street can go mobile with the technology and detect explosives themselves? So far it’ll be in the form of aCCTV camera – but if it’s successful, where will it take us? And also, if we have traces of everyday items that are used in explosives on us, does this mean we can expect to get ‘SWAT’ onto us in an instant?

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Loch Ness Monster hunt renewed by marine robot
Robotic falcon ‘hired’ to protect German airport

It’s robots vs mammals in the news this week. First, a marine robot has set off down to the depths of LochNess (and at 230m deep, those depths get pretty deep) in search of the elusive eponymous monster, as well as to conduct some regular, more mundane, topographic exploratory and mapping work. Secondly, at the small German airport ofWeeze (as in “a jollygood…”), a robotic falcon has been set loose to scare away the local birds (the feathered kind, not waywardWeeze women) from the runway and prevent them from wedging themselves in to the engines of incoming and outgoing aircraft. Robots vs mammals: it’s the bigRobo-Mammasmackdown. And if that doesn’t sound like a great night out to you, there’s just no pleasing some people.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Ultra-thin electronic thread empowers smart clothing

I’m always sceptical about industry claims that a new technology has broken through into the mainstream until I come across evidence in my own daily life. Fans of 3D printing have been telling us for some time that small-scale devices are going to be as common in homes as a fridge or washing machine for a while now, but it was only recently that a neighbour was enthusiastically telling me how useful the one he’d bought was turning out to be. Turns out it’s pretty straightforward to make replacements for all those fiddly but vital little widgets on all sorts of things that tend to snap or break but can’t be purchased even online. In one sense it’s a return to the old-fashioned make do and mend ethic from the chuck it away as soon as it breaks philosophy that’s prevailed in a lot of the world during the late 20th century. Next up in that vein could be a renaissance in home-made clothes, but with the twist that they’ll be smart. Researchers at Ohio State university in the US have come up with an electronic thread that can be incorporated in garments using a table-top sewing machine much like the one your grandparents might have relied on to patch up clothes. There’s a way to go before a consumer version hits the shops but it looks like an intriguing addition to the maker movement’s armoury of tools. Download circuitry patterns for the elements you want to include in your bespoke smart trousers, pick a fabric and away you go. The only question may be whether flares are on trend or not by the time this technology hits the high street.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
LiDAR driverless system operates in total darkness

Our roads could look strangely different to us in the future, if today’s vehicle research is anything to go by. Anyone living in a city or next to a main road may find it easier to get to sleep at night, thanks not only to the prospect of the near-silent traffic of electric vehicles.Driverless vehicles may produce less light pollution too. Ford is conducting trials of vehicles that use laser light rather than headlights to find their way. Presumably they will need some kind of smaller light so other vehicles can see them but they need not be any brighter than bicycle lights – and why not switch those off too when there’s no other traffic around?

Hybrid ink allows electronic circuits to be drawn by hand

Every now and again there’s an invention so smart but simple emerges that you wonder why no one has come up with it before. This pen that draws electrically conductive circuits is one such invention but it was a harder problem to solve than you might imagine. The question now is what on earth it will be used for. The maker movement will surely love it as it allows them to add simple electrical circuits to prototypes. I am not sure who else will find an immediate use for it, though perhaps it could be useful in school education?

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Paralysed man regains finger control with brain device

Technology is helping people – that’s a known fact – and one of the latest feats is helping a quadriplegic man play guitar. IanBurkhart, 24, broke his neck six years ago after diving into waves while on a beach holiday. He’s been unable to move ever since. Now, thanks to a computer chip implanted into his head,Burkhart has managed to move his fingers in six different ways. The chip sends signals from the brain to his muscles, enabling him to grasp and pick up small items, swipe a credit card and even play a guitar video game. DubbedNeuroLife, the pioneering device was invented atBattelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, in collaboration with physicians andneuroscientists from The Ohio State UniversityWexner Medical Center.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Ultra-thin electronic thread empowers smart clothing

Hybrid ink allows electronic circuits to be drawn by hand

A couple of stories that caught my eye from the news this week are potentially craft-related – though neither is really intended for the domestic hobbyist. There’s an ‘electronic thread’ that’s suitable for machine embroidery and could be used to create ‘smart clothing’ incorporating, say, medical or fitness sensors. Then there’s an electronic ink that lets you draw electronic circuits on paper or foil. Both developments have a serious purpose, but I rather like the idea of being able to experiment with creating my own electronic motifs for clothes and bags.

E&T news weekly #89 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 8, 2016

Friday 8 April 2016

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Barclays finally adopts Apple Pay; huge rise in contactless payments

As anyone who has used Apple Pay knows, it’s like a little slice of the future every time you casually bip your iPhone or Watch over the merchant’s contactless payment reader. No fishing around in your purse, no ungainly arrhythmic slapping of pockets to locate your wallet, no tiresome tapping of numbers or fumbly insertion of card in the PoS machine. You simply bip and go, all the while smiling beatifically at the shoppie as you casually swank about how technologically advanced you are. “Look at me!” you cry (hopefully not out loud). “I’m so far in to the fiscal future that I’m actually beyond money!” The news this week that Barclays – the last major UK bank holdout from joining the Apple Pay partner list – has finally succumbed and has adopted the scheme for its customers (presumably also tacitly admitting that its own Bpay contactless tag payment scheme has spectacularly failed to even moderately warm the world, let alone set it on fire) is further validation of the beauty and simplicity of using Apple Pay. The fact that your correspondent’s primary personal bank remains conspicuously absent from the Apple Pay partner list is moderately disappointing, but hope springs eternal.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Facebook’s iOS apps describe photos to blind users

Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat… The internet is flooded with images – some 1.8 billion of them get uploaded every day to various social networks. And now Facebook has made a move to get visually impaired users on board too, by launching a feature on its iPhone and iPad apps that can give the description of photos using VoiceOver tech that reads written text out loud. Its vocabulary is rather limited at the moment, consisting of only about 100 words that describe familiar objects and activities such as pizza, tennis, baby and sky. But the idea is that the AI will evolve, becoming more sophisticated with time, as it scans more and more images. The developer of the system, Matt King, is a Facebook engineer who lost his sight because of retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that destroys the light-sensitive cells in the retina. Facebook is not the only social network providing such a service, though. In March, Twitter added a function allowing users to add their own descriptive text to pictures. It’s a bit different from Facebook’s idea, as Twitter users have to choose to do it, while Facebook’s system tags every image automatically. One thing is certain – the AI is there, and it’s definitely getting smarter.

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Outcry over Google’s ‘Mic Drop’ April Fools’ prank

One of Google’s hallmarks is a set of elaborate April Fools pranks every year consisting of a number of joke ‘features’ added to its products. This year Google added the new ‘Mic Drop’ tool which was placed next to the normal ‘Send’ button on everyone’s Gmail. Once clicked, the new feature sent a message containing a GIF of a character from the Despicable Me and Minions movies dropping a microphone, as well as muting any future replies, ending the conversation. Gmail has about one billion users, what could possibly go wrong? A lot, predictably. With that many people using the service, emails were mistakenly sent to distraught relatives of the dead featuring the ‘funny’ gif, and responses from bosses were not received leading to sackings around the world. Perhaps the search giant will think again next year before adding joke features to its main email platform.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Electric vehicle wireless charging hits 90 per cent efficiency

One national supermarket chain’s attempt to pull in customers over the recent Easter holiday weekend with an offer on fuel prices that saw both unleaded petrol and diesel selling at under £1 a litre shows what an effective tool big retailers believe getting people onto forecourts can be in boosting profits. If any of them said they were going to give petrol away it would be front page news, with queues for miles, yet when I noticed that someone was not only parked in one of the spaces reserved for electric vehicles in my local store’s car park but was actually plugged in and taking advantage of the free charging facility it was notable enough for me to mention it the next day in the E&T office. Maybe these four slots are continuously occupied throughout the week when I wouldn’t notice – I don’t think it’s likely though. They’ve been there for at least a year and are usually conspicuously empty. If even priority parking and free energy aren’t encouraging take-up, perhaps the prospect of quicker charging that might let you do the equivalent of filling your tank in the time it takes to do the weekly shop will help. US researchers claim their three-year project has culminated in a system that’s capable of charging at 90 per cent efficiency and three times the speed of existing plug-in systems. What’s more, it’s wireless, which means you don’t have worry about your car being the target of any passing prankster who thinks it’s amusing to yank the cable out. It’s just one element of a fast-evolving sector that some research says will see electric models making up more than a third of new vehicles sales within a couple of decades’ time.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Humanoid robot gives Scarlett Johansson run for money

A Chinese designer spent a year making a humanoid robot designed to look exactly like actress Scarlett Johansson, because, well, you know, that’s not a weird thing to do with your time at all. It’s a completely normal thing for a fully-grown man to be doing. The robot, which cost £35,000 to make, can respond to a set of programmed verbal commands and has its very own 3D-printed skeleton, apparently allowing it to move in a ‘human-like’ way and create ‘realistic’ facial expressions. Personally, I think to say that the facial expressions are realistic is being a little overgenerous. Sure, it’s more human that C3PO but that facial expression is not real – unless of course she’s supposed to look as though she’s having a stroke? In which case, I stand corrected. I would really like it if people could just stop experimenting with humanoid robots. I love robots, but these things never cease to freak me out. The second they try to wear a human face it gets just a little too personal for my liking. I’m not sure how I would react if I came into contact with robot Scarlett Johansson, it would be quite the internal dilemma. Part of me thinks I’d quite like to interact with her, but I’m not sure I could cope. Perhaps I could play around with the voice recognition while blindfolded, to save myself the distress of looking into the eyes of this hideous she-beast.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Facebook’s iOS apps describe photos to blind users

This is a really interesting news story for several reasons. Basically, Facebook is developing software for its visually impaired audience designed to describe images to them as they scroll through their news feed. One of the reasons why this is great news is because it unleashes a whole new type of tech to people who may have missed out beforehand from using Facebook altogether (and getting to avoid having Candy Crush invites every day too). Tech is getting more and more adaptive to people’s needs, which means everyone gets the chance to enjoy it. Another reason why this is a great news story is because there will inevitably be a time where it goes wrong a bit. Developments like this don’t happen seamlessly (as we learnt from Google’s go at this) and it’s only a matter of time before something happens with this software too. Granted, it might not be as accidentally offensive, but it’s sure to be hilarious nonetheless because…well, because Internet.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Distracting in-car technology endangers ‘millions’ of drivers

We’ve long been aware that a mobile phone is a dangerous distraction in a car – even hands-free. Now attention is turning to other in-car electronics, everything from radios to screens. A new research report aims to quantify the risk posed by new in-car technologies. It’s a problem that will ultimately be solved by driverless cars – why choose to drive when you can just sit back and relax and do whatever else you like?

Brexit rejected by aerospace, defence, security and space sectors

Collaborative research is not an issue that’s top of the agenda public debate over the UK’s referendum on EU membership in June, but it’s one reason that companies cited as reasons to stay in the UK, in a survey published this week. And it’s one or four or five issues that E&T is discovering most matter to industry. Look out for our feature in our next issue.

Hannover Messe preview: plastic solar cells, glowing foil, 3D printed implants

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the giant Hannover Messe industrial show in Germany later this month. This is our pre-show preview of some of the new technologies on show there, and we’ll have more in our coverage from the show in E&T.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
FBI says iPhone hack only works on pre-5s models

Only older phones are vulnerable to the FBI’s hacking skills. That’s going to be super useful! In the future, I reckon people who have phones worthy of hacking won’t be rocking a retro model of Apple’s most popular creation. The hack used on an iPhone 5c owned by a San Bernadino shooter made the FBI drop their legal case against Apple. However, something may come up again, and it’ll probably restart the whole suing process. Sigh. Since the 5s, Apple has used processors with ‘Secure Enclave’, which is thought to be the reason why the hacking method won’t work on newer phones. FBI director James Comey said that the case is a bit of a technological corner, as the world has moved on with their phone technology. So basically, the next time they need to break into another phone, all this hullabaloo will be useless and they’re going to be stuck again. Ah, dear FBI. You silly.

Electric vehicle wireless charging hits 90 per cent efficiency

Soon we’ll all be whizzing along in our super quiet cars and we won’t need to worry about plugging it in. Huzzah! Wireless charging is approaching the efficiency of wired charging, which is pretty cool. Apparently, the cars will charge at three times the rate of wired charging. It’s definitely a breakthrough for sure. The dream is to not be tethered to a plug, so you can drive with ease, without having to worry about your silent vehicle running out of electric goodness.One thing I will say though: have you ever heard an electric vehicle? That’s right, you haven’t. And neither have I. They’re silent, and oh so deadly. You cross the road and BAM. You’re squished. Imagine getting yourself hit by one of these environmentally friendly bad boys. Good for the environment, bad for pedestrians. Hashtag just saying.


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